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Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power: Summary and Takeaways

Not many books in recent history have caused such an intense reaction as 48 Laws of Power did.

Since it was first published in 1998, the book has sold over 1,2 million copies in the United States and has been translated into 24 languages.

It’s a must in the bookshelves of many celebrities and successful individuals, but it also got blacklisted in several US prisons as a piece of potentially dangerous literature.

So, what is the whole deal all about then? See for yourself in our summary of 48 Laws of Power!

What Are the 48 Laws of Power?

In 1998, while working as a Hollywood screenwriter, Robert Greene noticed uncanny behavioral patterns shared by the Hollywood elite and influential historical figures such as Julius Caesar. He developed it into a theory that most of history’s powerful people followed a set of “laws”, which he set out to codify in his book.

The book is meant both as a psychological portrait of powerful people and a manual for those wishing to gain power. It’s often compared to classics such as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Machiavelli’s The Prince, which Greene often quotes from.

While Robert Greene intended the book to present a value-neutral conception of power, which can be used for good as well as evil, it’s often attacked as a cynical, toxic work of literature that promotes manipulative and amoral behavior.

On the other hand, its status among the very elite it writes about proves there’s more than a mere kernel of truth in its content.

Instead of taking either opinion for granted, why not check out the laws and judge for yourself?

The 48 Laws of Power: A List

Here is a summary of each of the 48 laws laid out in the book.

Law 1. Never Outshine the Master

You should always make your superiors trust you; that means you need to display competence, but not to the point where they may feel insecure about their position.

Let your masters feel comfortably superior, and they will be more likely to delegate power to you.

Law 2. Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies

Friends make unreliable partners and employees since they tend to take your friendship for granted and are prone to acting out on their emotions in a business context, sometimes outright betraying you.

On the other hand, a former enemy with whom you’ve defined clear boundaries may be an incredibly useful asset since they have more to prove.

Law 3. Conceal Your Intentions

Keep people off-balance and walking down the wrong path — if they have no idea what you’re up to, they won’t be able to plan a defense against your eventual attacks and will likely have less success at planning out an attack of their own, too.

Law 4. Always Say Less Than Necessary

Saying little creates an air of mystery that gives everything you eventually say an additional aura of profundity. Also, there’s always a risk of saying something you shouldn’t have by letting your mouth run too loose.

Occasionally uttering ambiguous phrases is an excellent way of cultivating a mysterious aura and talking without revealing anything useful.

Law 5. So Much Depends on Reputation — Guard It with Your Life

Once firmly established, reputation alone can open so many doors. Other than being one of your most valuable assets, it’s also one of your most fragile ones.

Even small infractions can wreck your reputation, so do everything you can to protect it. Use the same rule when planning an offense, too — open holes in your enemies’ own reputations and let public opinion hang them.

Law 6. Court Attention at All Costs

Getting noticed amidst the bland and timid masses is the first step towards exerting any sort of influence.

Being conspicuous and having an instantly recognizable, striking image will make people more likely to think of you before others, giving you access to more opportunities.

Law 7. Get Others to Do the Work for You, but Always Take the Credit

Managing to take all or most of the credit while passing on a huge chunk of the legwork to others will greatly reduce your burden without any sacrifices. Not only will such assistance save you time and energy, but it’ll also make others believe you’re capable of inhuman feats in terms of hard work and efficiency.

Law 8. Make Other People Come to You — Use Bait if Necessary

It’s always better to face adversaries on your own turf, where you have the home advantage. By leaving their own territory and stepping into the less familiar, your opponent leaves the cards in your hands.

Law 9. Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument

Defeating others in an argument can often lead to resentment that will linger for a long time and sometimes even bury any positive effect you may have made from a momentary change in opinion.

In contrast, if successful, demonstrating instead of explicating is much more powerful and leaves no room for argument.

Law 10. Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and the Unlucky

Associating with miserable people leaves room for you to get infected by someone else’s misery. Emotional states are contagious and letting yourself empathize with the unfortunate ultimately draws misfortune upon you, too, precipitating your own disaster.

Law 11. Learn to Keep People Dependent on You

The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have, because it means you won’t have to be the one to rely on others. As long as people depend on you for their happiness and prosperity, they won’t dare do you any harm.

Law 12. Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victim

A single sincere and honest move can trump dozens of dishonest ones. Selective honesty, in terms of tactically choosing a single aspect of yourself to display vulnerability over, will fool even the most suspicious people about your intentions. A timely and well-placed gift can have the same effect.

Law 13. When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to Their Mercy or Gratitude

Being in debt is never a good thing, and that rule extends to personal favors, too. When you need help from others, try convincing them that they’re helping themselves, not helping you.

Law 14. Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy

Knowledge is power, and what better way is there to gather valuable information about your adversary than to pose as their friend?

Learn to probe or info in polite social encounters — ask indirect questions to learn as much as possible.

Law 15. Crush Your Enemy Totally

All great leaders in history have known that a feared enemy must be completely crushed so they can’t recover and seek revenge. When striking, show no mercy — the enemy will cease to be a danger only when completely crushed both in body and spirit.

Law 16. Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor

Too much circulation makes your price go down. Being around too much will make you appear too ordinary. Once you’ve firmly established yourself in a group, withdraw to make your absence felt. This will make people want more of you and increase your value as a result.

Law 17. Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability

Humans have evolved into pattern-seeking creatures, who yearn for habit and look for familiarity in other people’s actions. Not being able to identify a pattern in your behavior makes people feel like you’re out of their control and inspires a sense of terror.

Law 18. Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself — Isolation is Dangerous

Having strong protection is crucial, but cutting yourself off from your surroundings also cuts you off from information and makes you a conspicuous target. Blending into the crowd and using a broad network of allies for protection is a much better approach.

Law 19. Know Who You’re Dealing with — Don’t Offend the Wrong Person

Never go out of your way to offend people. Some people are wolves in sheep’s clothing — cross them once and they will spend the rest of their lives seeking revenge.

Carefully choose people you want to antagonize — offending or deceiving the wrong person can cause you a lot of problems in the long run.

Law 20. Don’t Commit to Anyone

Stay above the fray and don’t commit to anyone but let yourself be courted by all. Maintain your independence and keep furthering only your own cause. Staying above petty conflicts will let you channel the frustration of others into furthering your own power.

Law 21. Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker — Appear Dumber than Your Mark

If people are comfortable in feeling they are smarter than you, they won’t suspect you of having any ulterior motives and will see you as less of a threat. This will let you strike when they least expect it.

Law 22. Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power

Recognize when you can’t win, and always opt to surrender instead of fighting for honor’s sake. The key part of the surrender tactic is staying firm on the inside while feigning defeat. This will allow you to recover and develop a new strategy to win.

Law 23. Concentrate Your Forces

Concentrate your forces and resources into a single point, as it’s much faster and more efficient to call upon a single large source rather than many small ones. When looking for a source of power, concentrate on finding one key powerful patron rather than several less powerful ones.

Law 24. Play the Perfect Courtier

The laws of court politics are vital in a world where everything revolves around power. Learn the arts of flattery, political agility, and power play, and you are bound to get far.

Law 25. Re-Create Yourself

Instead of accepting your given role in society, re-create yourself by forging a brand-new identity that fits the role you want to assume. Take full control over your own image and incorporate dramatic devices into your persona, and you will assuredly create a larger-than-life character capable of exerting influence wherever it goes.

Law 26. Keep Your Hands Clean

Avoid doing any dirty work yourself, as it may damage your reputation beyond repair. You should keep your reputation as pure as possible by letting your allies and associates soil their hands instead.

Law 27. Create a Cult-Like Following by Playing on People’s Need to Believe

As proven by the existence and continuous strength of organized religion, people have an overwhelming desire to believe in something greater than themselves.

Play on those needs and incorporate such desire into your projects — offer people a cause to believe in, a set of rituals to perform, and emphasize enthusiasm over logic and rationality. Keep your words vague, but full of hope and promise.

Law 28. Enter Action with Boldness

Don’t attempt an action if you’re unsure of it — timidity is dangerous and infective, and displaying it will seriously harm your reputation. Importantly, bold and unexpected moves are capable of striking fear into your enemies, and fear creates authority.

Law 29. Plan All the Way to the End

As in chess, the endgame determines everything. Don’t lull yourself into a false sense of security once your plans start working out. Plan until the very end and take all the possible consequences into account.

Law 30. Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless

All the toil that goes into your accomplishments should remain concealed. Act like you’ve accomplished everything naturally and effortlessly — it will cause people to question the source of your capabilities and make them think you’re capable of even more.

Law 31. Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards You Deal

The most effective tricks and deceptions are those where you can convince the other person that they are the ones with agency and in control. Create an illusion of choice but ensure that each of the options at their disposal ends up benefiting you.

Law 32. Play into People’s Fantasies

The truth is hard, ugly, and painful. As such, it’s often too hard for most people to accept and live with, so they run away to a fantasy realm as a coping mechanism. To get what you want, tap into these fantasies and use the knowledge to charm people’s hearts and minds.

Law 33. Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew

Greene uses the expression “gap in the castle wall”, which refers to a weakness in everyone’s defenses. This weak link can take the form of an uncontrollable emotion, or a small secret pleasure. Such an uncontrollable emotion can easily be used to take advantage of a person and make them do your bidding.

Law 34. Be Royal in Your Own Fashion: Act Like a King to Be Treated Like One

Carry yourself in the manner you want to be treated. The Strategy of the Crown is the theory that if we believe we are destined for remarkable things, our belief will radiate outwards and create an aura of power, just like a crown affects a king.

Law 35. Master the Art of Timing

Even the most durable and ambitious people have their energy limits. With only so much energy, perfect timing is crucial to accomplish everything you’ve set your mind to. Also, showing people that you’re ever in a hurry leads them to believe you have no control over your time management.

Law 36. Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them Is the Best Revenge

Ignore petty problems, don’t obsess over small mistakes, and don’t concern yourself with things you cannot have. Giving them attention will turn small, unimportant issues into large and powerful ones.

Law 37. Create Compelling Spectacles

Grand symbolic gestures create a seductive aura that both signifies power and dazzles people into obsessing over symbols and appearances while ignoring whatever’s going on below the surface.

Law 38. Think as You Like, but Behave Like Others

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Flaunting your originality too much will make people despise you. Blend in and share your original ideas only with your closest circle — eccentricity and uniqueness will be more appreciated once you gain more power.

Law 39. Stir Up Waters to Catch Fish

Anger is often an impediment while managing to stay calm puts you at a decided advantage over the enemy who lets their emotions run wild. Making your enemies angry and emotional is a huge strategic advantage: always aim to put your enemies off-balance.

Law 40. Despise the Free Lunch

In this world, nothing comes for free — even a free lunch comes with strings attached. Generosity is a show of control and dominance — be generous with others but avoid indulging in their own generosity.

Law 41. Avoid Stepping into a Great Man’s Shoes

Succeeding a great man, either as a family scion or a business successor, is never easy. You may feel the urge to quickly live up to their legacy, but focusing on that goal is an almost certain road to failure. Instead, build up your own reputation and create a legacy that is entirely your own making.

Law 42. Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Scatter

When there is trouble in your domain, it can often be traced to a single strong individual. Don’t let them freely operate, as their influence and power will only grow the longer they are around. Strike at them swiftly and effectively, and their followers will also be instantly neutralized.

Law 43. Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others

To ensure long-lasting loyalty, consent always works infinitely better than coercion. It’s always preferable to seduce others by exploiting their weaknesses rather than forcing them into cooperation. The latter will usually come back to hurt you.

Law 44. Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect

By copying the words and behavior of others, you’re holding up a mirror to their souls and actions. They will believe that the mirror reflects reality, which, depending on your approach, can either disarm or infuriate them.

The Mirror Effect is one of the most potent tools of psychological manipulation.

Law 45. Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform Too Much at Once

Radical change is a powerful and attractive motto to rally around, but in truth, most people aren’t ready for everything that it entails.

Humans are creatures of habit who get upset at too much innovation and will find a more conservative practical approach that offers a gentle improvement on top of the existing framework way more palatable.

Law 46. Never Appear Too Perfect

Envy creates silent enemies, and appearing too perfect is a surefire way to cause tension and antagonism.

Instead of adopting such a spotless appearance that’s bound to appear fake and manufactured, you should occasionally display defects in a strategic way to make yourself appear more relatable.

Law 47. Don’t Go Past the Mark You Aimed for: In Victory, Learn When to Stop

Overconfidence is the bane of every successful person. Don’t let victorious arrogance push you too far beyond the goal you had initially aimed for. The potential rewards are usually not worth the antagonism you will attract by indulging in your hubris.

Law 48. Assume Formlessness

Remaining too rigidly set in your plans will leave your next steps too transparent for your own good, making you too vulnerable to attacks. Keep yourself as adaptable as possible — accept that nothing is certain and leave your plans completely open to adjustment at any given moment.

Wrapping Up

No matter what you believe about the guidelines laid out in the 48 Laws of Power, it’s certain that this controversial book will keep people discussing it for decades to come. Its sharp, lucid, and ruthless analysis of social convention in powerful circles makes it akin to the edgy cousin of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, another classic in the self-help genre.

What is your take on the 48 Laws of Power? Let us know in the comments below!

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